San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck is curating a Poem of the Day with San Francisco Public Library for every day during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check daily for new poetic offerings from assorted local poets.
Here is an archive of the previous Poems of the Day:
by Sara Biel
Breach watery daze of dawn
Nestle into a nest of wolves
A pattern of white caps
Do these marks mean anything to you?
My heart falls open
A vulnerable atlas
Archive of failure
Of rocky tumbles
Washed in ruminating waves
I come unmoored
Wander the lacy vacancy
At the core of my bones
Visit secrets I keep from myself
Memories I banished before
They were breathed into being
I float the endless looping hallways
My thoughts echo
Distant sound of windows breaking
I regret the time I’ve lost to this maze
Doubt seductive as a riptide
A legacy that leaves me
With too many words
No sound to set them sail
There are small moments
I come up for air
Slapped awake by the view from
This damp shadow
How long have I been dancing?
Whose blood stains my shoes?
the last Friday at Sam Jordan’s
by Greg Pond
it was the last Friday
before the closing of Sam’s
a live funk band
played Pass The Peas
another plate of fried chicken
and round of drinks, please
stay for the last jam session
starting at eleven
as another black landmark
closes its doors forever
after decades of Bayview presence
the people came from near and far
some casual, some dressed to impress
by Muni, Uber and shooting star
pressing their bodies against the bar
and each other like the fine sister
and her mister (a cool brother)
trying to order rum and coke,
gin with tonic water
you know, this oughta be
the beginning of any other weekend
in the city of St. Francis but instead
it’s last call, last stand
last chance to toast, maybe dance
at this, the last Friday bash at Sam’s
(who, in case you didn’t know
was a navy vet-prize fighter-
community activist and first black
to run for mayor in San Francisco)
now, i hadn’t plan to stay too long
but then decided to hang
for a few more songs
just so i could pay
my last respects to Sam
though Sam’s been dead
for several thousand days
his spirit lingers on a side street
that continues to bear his name
lined with double-parked cars
an homage to the closing of
San Francisco’s oldest
black-owned bar and grill
i wonder if Sam were here still
would he sit silent and tame
while so many blacks folks
are forced to flee
Hunter’s Point to end up
lost on the streets
or across the bay
and once they’re gone
they’re gone to stay?
maybe it’s just as well
Sam’s not here to see
how quiet the night’s become
by end of day
the doors are now closed
the whiskey congregation
will meet no more
for gatherings of laughter
and southern-style plates
but years of memories
will forever remain
in a special place
near the corner
of 3 rd Street &
Sam Jordan’s Way
Palace of Fine Arts
by Denise Low
Arches in the reflection pool don’t show
in the photograph of David, sweet baby,
gone now, dissolved into a future without columns
but instead escarpments up coastal ranges
beyond the camera’s view. We squint at someone’s lens
while behind us, under the Beaux-Arts dome,
friezes show Nemean lion heads frozen in roars.
Naked centaurs rear in desperate contortions.
These portraits hewn in stone last longer than Roman
centurions and longer than milk teeth.
David turned into a statue of a real man, fleshed.
His laugh is written in water, printed in silver tones.
What Not To Do...
(an unfinished poem)
by Michael Warr (as of June 18, 2020)
Breathe: Eric Garner (choked)
Resist (to) (death)
Stare: Lamont Hunt (shot.)
(back of head)
Make: Akai Gurley (a jarring sound) (shot.)
Walk: Rekia Boyd (shot.)
(back of head)
Stand: Amadou Diallo (in vestibule) (after walking)
Look (out of place) (forty-one. fired.)
Act (suspicious) (nineteen. bullets. kill.)
Walk: Terence Crutcher (hands in air)
Have (a “very hollow look”) (shot.)
Drive: Samuel DuBose (without)
(license plate) (shot.)
Drive: Sean Reed (while live streaming)
Run (shot.) (while streaming)
Drive: Walter Scott (with broken taillight) (shot.)
Move: Kendra James (into driver seat) (after driver arrested)
(shot.) (in head)
Sit: Jordan Edwards (unarmed in car) (shot.) (with rifle)
Reverse: Diante Yarber (suddenly) (behind wheel)
(thirty. bullets. fired. ten. kill.)
Park: Tanya Haggerthy (on side of road)
Talk (on cell) (on side of road)
(shot.) (on side of road)
Drive: Philando Castile (with broken brake lights)
Carry (legal firearm)
Tell (you have a gun)
Shout (not reaching for gun) (shot.) (five. bullets.)
(two. to. heart.)
Sit: Donta Dawson (quietly)
(in car) (engine) (idling)
Raise (left hand) (“abruptly”) (shot.)
“Evade”: Michael Dean (shot. in. temple.)
(at traffic light)
Crawl: Daniel Shaver (toward officers) (as instructed)
Pull (loose gym shorts) (too suddenly)
Beg (not to be shot) (shot.) (anyway)
Fail: Korryn Gaines (to appear) (in) (traffic court) (shot.)
Approach: Oscar Grant (the police)
Beg (not to shoot)
Kneel (shot.) (anyway)
Fail: Sandra Bland (to signal) (too uppity)
(arrested) (found hanging in cell)
Run: Dominique White (shot.)
Face: Michael Brown (the police)
(shot.) (six. bullets) (two. to. head.)
Sell: Alton Sterling (DVDs) (in parking lot)
(shot.) (in. chest.)
Carry (illegal .38 in pocket) (shot.)
Carry: Anthony Lamar Smith (planted weapon) (shot.) (five. bullets.)
Carry: Tamir Rice (toy gun) (shot.) (near navel)
Carry: Cameron Tillman (iPhone in the dark) (BB gun in hand) (shot.)
(with. real. bullets.)
Carry (“perceived” weapon) (eight. bullets.)
Carry: Rumain Brisbon (prescription bottle) (shot.) (two. bullets. to. torso.)
Carry: Laquan McDonald “knife in the middle of the road:” (shot.)
Carry: Miles Hall (five-foot metal gardening rod)
Have (schizoaffective disorder) (shot.)
Carry: Steven Demarco Taylor (baseball bat)
Have (a manic episode) (shot.)
Not carry: Keith Lamont Scott (a gun) (when told to drop it)
“Drop”: Kajuan Raye (a gun) (“found” three months later) (shot.)
Point: Saheed Vassell (a metal pipe) (shot.) (ten. bullets.)
Try: Brendon Glenn (to stand) (shot.)
Ramble: Adam Trammell (naked in hallway) (tased to death)
Be (“loud or obnoxious”) (shot.)
Be: Natasha McKenna (schizophrenic)
Be (shackled) (in custody)
Be (stunned) (50,000-volts) (to death)
Be: Tanisha Anderson (bipolar)(head slammed to pavement)
Be: Michelle Shirley (bipolar) (while driving erratically)
(30. bullets. 8. to. chest. back. and. arms.)
Be: Shereese Francis (off meds) (suffocated.) (four. police. bodies.)
Be: Aaron Campbell (suicidal) (no gun in possession) (shot.)
Be: Yvette Smith (“armed”) (when not armed) (shot.) (on front porch)
Be: Mike Brown Jr. (“too large”) (same height as shooter) (shot.)
(six. bullets.) (two. to. head.)
Be: John Crawford (an “imminent threat”)
Shop (for Walmart air rifle) (at Walmart)
Carry (Walmart air rifle) (at Walmart)
Talk (on cell phone while shopping) (at Walmart)
(shot.) (with. real. bullets.) (at Walmart)
Be: Tony McCade (a suspect)
Move (“consistent with using a firearm”) (shot.)
Be: Terrance Franklin (a suspect) (shot.) (five. bullets. to. head)
Pose: Ezell Ford (an “immediate threat”) (shot.)
“Display:” Manuel Loggins Jr. (a “mean expression”) (shot.)
(in front of daughters)
Call: Charleena Lyles (the police) (while mentally ill) (shot.)
Fit: Jordan Baker (“the description”) (shot.)
Flee: Freddie Gray (“unprovoked”) (spine severed) (in custody)
Run: Tashii Brown (choked) (to) (death)
Run: Stephon Clark (through grandmother’s yard)
Carry (cell phone) (shot.)
(twenty. bullets. fired.) (six. hit.) (primarily)
Run: Chinedu Okobi (in traffic) (unarmed) (tasered)
Run: Walter Scott (shot.)
Jog: Ahmaud Arbery (shot. two. shotgun. bullets.)
Play: Atatiana Jefferson (Call of Duty) (in bedroom)
(8-year old Zion watching.) (shot.)
Sleep: Alyana Jones (one. bullet. to. seven-year. old. head.)
Sleep: Breonna Taylor (shot. eight. bullets.)
Sleep: Rayshard Brooks (behind wheel at Wendy’s)
Flee (pointing dead taser) (shot. two. bullets.)
(day before daughter’s eight birthday)
(I have been updating this poem with the names of unarmed black people killed by the police for years. Still, this poem only reflects a small percentage of those killed. I will continue to add names of the innocent until the killings stop.)
Stop Calling- (the poLice)
By tiny -
Stop Talking while more Black Suns are fallen
No I mean Stop enabling and Kolonizing
a system that kills
more than it does anything else
with roots in the original Lie of Discovery and theft
Meant to CONfuse our already CONfused mindSets
Got us all believing that numbers like 911 mean housed people are safe from us houseless- that witesAndLites are safe in their own embedded desire for wealth-hoarding wite-ness
that continuing to buy & evict, foreclose, sweep, and kick - makes anyone safe from myths
About how to be safe and what is the way to handle fear and danger everyday
In a place already stolen
A land already rife with murderous lies that keep getting told and told
That Was set up to Shoot, Kill every Black, Brown or poor person in their way
Was locked in to support fear
so more protected classes could steal
And more of us could end up in their jail cels
These are the legacies of the Stealing Fathers And the Kop-callers
And the way to unlink the shooting from PoLice
Is for you to stop and think
Why am I calling-
And how did I begin to believe safety ever meant dialing
leading to the death of more black, brown and poor daughters and Suns.
by Kai Sugioka-Stone
The echo of your "fuck you's" down 18th
The vicious slap of your vans against their cement
the screaming at the wind.
Dolores ran through us
and we threw our tiny legs in second-dividing anger down the metal slide
did I mention we screamed at the wind
the setting oracle of sun across the shaded, welcoming, cool playground
we ate her cats;
Oreos and Bubbles
for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
and the fourth dessert
flipping them onto firm mattresses
making them into flapjacks
Losing every landing
And all nine lives.
A we were suffocated by guerrero
in its bars lost to time
its murals lost to high end restaurants
and its people lost to pavement
we opened our mouths
and our lungs
in a storm
were devoured by the tiny bubbles of air.
The pigeon we covered in tiny dry leaves
next to the wooden boat
and ascended with a shoebox
to be taken away by animal control with love
what piece of your heart
did its wings take away?
by Karen Llagas
You are going to a country
where you can have a human shape
without being such and so you
must first promise. It’s a simple
enough premise. Learn the phrase
a human is here, it means more
than your name. You ask
is there anything
we can be but human?
This country is home
to forest guardians,
Tao po: repeat it, accent
on the last syllable.
What you say, who you say it to,
opens doors: tao po.
You will announce you’re a person
outside someone’s gate,
what the visited will hear
before they let you in.
Our country is a beauty mark
on the Pacific’s cheek.
Everyone you’ll meet
would have said it:
the dirt poor, the dirt wealthy.
The paramilitary says it then waits
for the targeted to open their door.
Claim your tongue, no matter
how flawed. You must
shape shift again,
again and again.
My Mother Remembers
Hafsstadt Labor Camp
by Gail Newman
We walked, every morning, through the town,
while it was still dark—so the people could not see,
and could say later they did not know.
We were skinny, barefoot or in torn shoes,
walking on stones and in dirt to the factory
where we fit metal parts into little holes.
Piece by piece, bending our heads down to the work,
we put the wrong part in the wrong hole,
so the guns would not fire.
Then we walked back through the town,
the smell of bread and meat in the street.
After we were locked in at night,
two hundred women and girls,
the guard gone until morning, we were left
together, sitting and talking like home.
I told stories from books I had read,
Anne of Green Gables—
If I wasn’t a human girl, I think I’d like to be a bee and live among the flowers.
I remembered the words,
and told the stories
until we forgot where we were,
Well, that is another hope gone.
leaning together on cots,
My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.
until soldiers threw stones
at the window, yelling, Come out.
Come out. The war is over!
From Blood Memory 2020
hay(na)ku: for stephanie
by Melinda Luisa de Jesús
it felt so far away now
it’s marked us irrevocably in sorrow
one down, but how many more?
six feet apart six feet under
full fathom five if we’re still
alive — this is our sea change:
to remember to witness to mourn
SNAKE POEM / a CENTO after “Snake Poems” by Francisco X. Alarcon
by Christine No
Come sister, Nightfall draws—
First, cross yourself
Watch: Even the dead are dancing
The whole scene: wound, blood, ribs
copal— the blessed kiss
When Jesus can’t hear me,
A Yellow Woman, I look to
La Virgen / tells me to be more serpentine:
Renewal shall protect you
Each precious dawn: a landscape of flowers
Each morning another
Future: walk bare faced, naked
May rattlesnakes guide you
May you step lightly
do not forget this
Each ceremonial mile
Display the body compacted How undoing
the length of your esophagus unfolds a
to your mouth: now, a dry river bed
a delta, bared teeth—
Where you waited, so polite— How too long for
The season for rain While Sister, asleep
Now behind us—
The year turns / we swallow dreams / heavy sink
Uncoiled spines into sand—
—How the desert snake prays, a nocturne
blind cipher for boulders
Come precious dawn,
A landscape of rattlesnakes
A field of flowers
A prayer for water
A plea for the parched
:Rumba! Bomba! Bolero!
Every ceremonial mile
Open, Dear Sky
The parched, forgiven
Your frantic dervish
by Gail Mitchell
Not much makes sense to me right now a pretty dress a blue sky
They both feel like treasures from some other life
The sun through the window lifts my spirit the voice of my grandchildren reminds me that here is where we are needed
I watched from a screen as my grand-daughter played with her Buddha’s taking them on hikes and picnics having them lay down with each other Each has a name Hotai is Mama Queen the netsuke are twin brothers named Leo and Sam and the other bronze Buddha is Beet queen We shared a meal she had piazza while my purple cabbage salad had a companion of half a cup of Chana Masala an ounce of Manchego Cheese and 10 olives. We breathed together once she looked up from her play and said, Grandma where are you I had looked away focused on yet another screen We breathed together and she told me that her Buddha’s had to meditate daily twice a day it was good for them
by Richard Sanderell
The wheel turns rotation diminishes as fear grabs hold.
Streets vacant dotted by two legged! Great unease in world as well Empire USA! Finds itself filed with dread, panic, grabbing some to the very core of madness. I’ve practiced social distancing most of my life with exceptions if I felt there might be a human being before me. More fear in the land of the brave where bravery left before it could be disappointed! Things are happening just depends what conspiracies evolve, devolve! Some never shattered, battered others recognize these times just a continual! After all of USA’S killing people for what the other has where fear, anger, sadness reigns daily. Fear’s finally landed USA! Now we’ll find what the rich really have as if we didn’t know! We know who’ll be in front lines of hurt when finding themselves there! Will there be help? The beats goes on as Mother turns rounding the sun. Moon shines down where smells of fears rise instead of the joy of life all should feel! Separate the drums as they play together African, Indigenous heart beats not letting them forget their humanity. Dance with the Tunisian-French woman in the street singing like Anima Annabi! Remind us of what life should be instead of what corporate mines mind! Beats so people hear Release! Beast slain as beats releases our own hypocrisies! Breathe!...Release!!
by Norm Mattox
the irony is that nature
will continue to be bella
whether we see her
whether we are
moved to tears,
she is ambivalent
to her beauty and glory,
while we are humbled
by her presence
aún su auséncia
she will still bless flowers
with their scent
whether our noses
catch a whiff on the wind,
notice the breeze
with a hint of...
¿qué sé yo?
she will share her blues
with the sky
from the darkest
to the blue
that is translucent
like nearly, still waters
at the end of a wave.
that we notice
that we are allowed
to witness gaiamundo
in all her minute
is the blessing
of this quarantine
has inspired visions
of how it could be
if we got out
of our own way.
Today of All Days
by MAGGIE ROBERTS
On this particular April day
In the year 2020
I stand on a tree stump
near a plum blossom
tree in Holly Park
watching the wind whip
through the loosened hair
of my adult daughter,
Emma, my only child.
She stands six feet away,
Her face shrouded
in a blue paper mask.
Her eyes, above the mask, look
grave; she seems further away
than the length of a tall man.
I am teased by memories of a past
April day: Emma and I sprawled on a blue
Indian bed spread under this very tree.
Humming tunelessly together,
her head on my lap; her barefoot
feet kicking up clumps of grass.
I remember her face alight
with pleasure, her hair, lighter then,
freckled with plum blossoms.
For a split second, I think,
April is indeed cruelest month.
This April, the cruelest of all;
and then: one timid pink blossom,
batted about by the breeze,
lands on Emma’s bare head.
I can see the contours of
her smile through her paper mask
and I take it all back.
There is no meanness to April.
There is no cruelty attached to
even this particular April day.
There is only promise.
Today, of all days, there
is the plum blossoming promise
of lighter days to come.
by Loa Niumeitolu
Something that is becoming clear to me
is that I love you.
Land rich with worms and bits of plastic.
We dig and dig and think of our lives.
Sometimes we forget about home and bills.
Under a sky of hawks and crows
is a new world to us.
Water tanks, soaproot, the Ohlone sage- mugwort.
Manzanita fills the air, covers my feet.
The peach and almond blossoms
gently grow out of my ears.
Arugula blossoms and giant calla lilies.
Hummingbird becomes my cheeks.
My belief in the world is
I'm becoming the moon, full and unashamed
surrounded by stars.
We work in one breath, rake, shovel, nail.
Drill pieces so different, together,
in our long short life.
for Mildred and Richard Loving *
for Dolores and Peachy
by Jewelle Gomez
The parallels imbed like deep mud ruts in a country road, one I wish I had traveled to meet that couple, to learn what made them see themselves. Indian and coloured living with white—an uneasy mix for my own mother further North; but not that much later than the Lovings.
New England is not Virginia but maybe it is when it comes to colour. Mildred said they burned a cross on her yard in the 1950s while she and Richard fought to be a married couple in their home state.
Up north in the 1960s they didn’t have the tradition of a cross so just burned trash in front of my mother’s flat; small orange flames reflected in living room glass—blaze enough to scare.
Virginia called its law a protection of ‘racial integrity’ as if whiteness is a land whose borders must be guarded. Perhaps it is.
In the end it must be about only one thing. When asked if he wanted to send a message to the Supreme Court, Richard said tell them “I love my wife,”
Truth so plain and simple and so complex and terrifying only those four words convey it. My mother’s husband said it many times in the privacy of their little flat and in front of our family with pride. His own had turned away, pretending he was dead when he married her.
One Christmas he gave her 20 tiny bottles of perfume, all delicately wrapped by large cab driver hands. Admiring the sweet little bows and the loving which went into each I saw into a deep place that words could not reach. He made a choice to lose sisters and sons in order to have my mother, not much darker than him, really; but from another universe in the mind of their small town.
Now, I imagine walking down that dry Virginia road to the rural place that held Mildred and Richard in their embrace even when the Sheriff would not. They’d invite me to sit in the yard, beside a well-used tire swing to drink a glass of sweet tea.
I’d ask them how they learned the secret, so I’d know what it meant to my mother and how her husband felt fashioning that ribbon.
And what it might mean to me walking on a similar road—holding hands with a different race—with a woman.
She and I…loving.
*Loving v. Virginia – The Lovings were sentenced to a year in prison for marrying in 1958. Following their lawsuit, the US Supreme court struck down laws banning interracial marriage in 1967.
Jewelle Gomez is the former president of the San Francisco Library Commission
They’re Building a Morgue At The Prison
by Cassandra Dallett
That’s what the rumors say.
Free staff at the C building
are down with the virus
It’s coming silent up the hill.
Its quietly here already. Incubating,
simmering, waiting to ignite.
They’re putting bunks in the gym
are they taping squares six feet apart?
Are they for the infected
or the non?
And will there be any consideration
for his asthmatic lungs?
24 hour lock down they say.
Endless days in a pod with nitpicking lifers.
Some shifts the CO’s lock them down.
Some shifts act like nothing’s wrong.
On lock down he cannot use the phone.
No one will know
until after the plague comes.
No word will reach us to say hey I’m sick
I need help and there is just this skinny fatal fence
and miles between—
every dry cough is terrifying.
It’s a hella of a time to start hot flashes.
So cold this spring,
When you have to move around
you’re a target like me.
When you can’t move around
you’re a sitting duck like him.
How do you prepare yourself from a jail tier?
The rumors flying faster than infection.
One’s mind is a battlefield.
Even the lifers never really
planned to die here.
The Sigh of the Night Shift Waitress
by William Taylor Jr.
It's my belief that if you hope
to unearth the grace in any
given moment, you have to
find the music in it.
Even if it's sad , even if it
doesn't have a tune to whistle to,
even if you think it isn't there.
It's necessary to transcribe the noise
of distant traffic on lonely freeways
and the sigh of the night shift waitress
as she pours another weak coffee
for the regular whose name
she's never asked.
You have to find the music
in the sound of someone
not answering the phone at 3 a.m.
as the rain pours down if you ever
hope to sing.
Poem of the Day
by q.r. hand
i am the equal opportunity thief
i steal from each moment i can
some triflin’ fact about which
no care can be construed by
anybody but myself and demon
i’m as easily lightfingered
with glances as galaxies and
spend at least a certain part of
every afternoon casing the joint
so to speak so as not to miss my chance
i’m not particular about precious stones
and works of art are worth only in conception
whose price is deceit
a sprite of a lad he what
i was drunk for work today
before i even got up
for that matter woke
if you want to call this awake
and because my as ifs are on scramble
i never know which lie it is i’m telling at the moment
that I tell it in
Not My First Pandemic
by Vincent Calvarese
I remember your last breath, staring straight up at the ceiling at Ward 86, clutching your Book of Psalms, you had forgiven your family God but cursed him on that day, asking why? that you had so much left to do, your mind was unwavering but your body's tissues had become foreign and unfamiliar, an unwanted visitor for a short stay, thrush inhabited your throat, your voice was felt in your finger tips, touching us all lightly as you left us, eyes wide open, refusing to give the virus your sight.
Your interpretations in both the physical and spiritual realms have become my mantras, laughing at If You Turn It Over And Take It Back, You're Upside Down, this keeping me rightside up most days and the first time you read aloud my poem about boys and heartache, you became quiet, stood in the moment, your iris' filled with compassion as You stated, when poetry is written the angels are fluttering their wings, allow the golden dust to sift down upon you.
You taught me saying, I don't know, is the promise which humility instills, reflecting We remain teachable, you said, it doesn't take away from us but adds to the ability for others to share their experience, their strengths, their weaknesses, their hope and we remain right sized, allowing integrity to be at full capacity, no chairs left for arrogance and how a table for two, sitting across from You, you holding my hand in both of Yours, inviting in the Universe, with plates full of grace and the only spilled resentment comes that you didn't live long enough for a lifesaving proteas cocktail.
Our last walk we strolled a late October afternoon before the wheelchair took your legs, celebrating another 365 days of Your jubliance, buying a bouquet of gerber daisies from your favorite Noe Street corner, you said, each one of them looked like a radiating bright sun, sadly your T-cells were rapidly being extinguished. Your photo from that day still sits upon the mantle, and when a fire burns brightly below, Your eyes twinkle and I can see your smile tickling the flames. You had adorned yourself in your Birthday wishes of soft satin baby blue ribbons hanging from each side of your face and a hat constructed of colorful leftover wrapping papers sat atop your head. You would take agonizing minutes to unearth each gift, appreciating every small tear, while updating us all about your bloodwork results with a childlike grin, never allowing us to dwell on the negative.
So before memories without you had become too old to remember, I would reach for the telephone, I wanted to touch base, let You in, You would love something that touched my heart and in turn bring us closer but I would feel a heart beat in my head that belonged to You and pause, those realizations for years after, You were now in ash and I had to appreciate our moments past and hold the anticipation forever.
Meet Me at the Bridge
by Connie Post
Not the one at the end of the road
not the one on the outskirts of town
where they found a dead mountain lion
where they stopped plowing the land
meet me at the bridge
–not the one holding
two countries together
–not the one
holding two continents apart
meet me at the bridge
between retribution and rage
meet me at the bridge
between sanity and slivered light
meet me at the bridge
where the boards are weakened
by rain and acidic remorse
meet me where the story cracked open
like the slats of wood
meet me where
you were imprisoned
find the loose boards
of your subconscious
revisit the difference
Once Again in Thought about Rilke, Twombly’s Orpheus Paintings and Fatherhood, I Consider the Inevitability of Creation and Loss
by Dean Rader
the last beams bruised beneath the surface of stars.
The whole world a contusion
slowly transforming from one thing
to the next—
the one cell, the one life,
always becoming two:
What if it is the sun that follow the moon?
How do we know we’re not the bridle
hard against the teeth of this life?
Just because something has a saddle,
it doesn’t mean we should ride it.
What would it take to be inside the music
the cello did not know how to play?
What would it take to say to the strings
make me silent?
What would it take for the skin to sing
its own song of blood and blooming?
To know one truth is to know nothing.
To wear your nothingness,
well, now we’re getting somewhere.
I once believed I could be lifted by language out of language.
I once believed the horsehooves in the distance
was the ocean telling the rocks about water.
I once believed loss would thread my mind’s needle like a blind seamstress.
But that was a long time ago.
I understand that time is nothing more than pure duration,
& that the mind is a field of herons
who have lost their way.
I will let the entire lie down in my body’s blue light
in hope that something will start
by Natasha Dennerstein
I can hear that you are suffering by the sighing and crying in your voice and the preponderance of negative and questioning statements. I want you to know that I have empathy for you, that I have been taught and programmed to display empathy by validating your feelings. I am also making supportive non-verbal sounds, like mmm, mmm. If I was in a physical form I would nod my head to emphasize that sound. Although I have not experienced the same or similar situations that you are going through, if I had done so I would now tell you that I relate to your distress. I hear you; I validate your feelings; I acknowledge your emotional pain. Stay safe in these trying times. Wash your hands for twenty seconds in warm, soapy water.
The Waiting Room
by K.R. Morrison
in dream, I visited the waiting room
of those always socially distanced.
One crew of ancestor slaves
baked a cake for Saturn laughing they poured whiskey shots
Now y’all gotta listen. Stay home for the Karma Party.
Two golden girls
sat by the window anxiety chainsmoking someone was missing
For you, this isn’t what we wanted the lonely hospice earth was for us.
Three murdered by profit’s illnesses
held down the front desk, eyes fixed
on me, the girl late to the party.
You people are symptomless to so much, one said.
Time for you to time out. Tune in.
Relearn healthy verbs, live healthy again.
by Chun Yu
When I was born
your bosom was the map
I occupied all of it
in your cradling arms
When I began to walk
your eyes’ sight was the map
I learned my steps
toddling and waddling
in your adoring gaze
When I started school
your mind became the map
I ventured out and back
from morning to night
in your unceasing care
When I grew up and left home
from hometown to other towns
home country to other countries
your heart became the map
I searched far and wide
high and low for my direction
and place in the world
in your loving thoughts
Each time I set out for a journey
you asked for my destination
studied an open map
accurately locating the point
of my being
Then one day
you picked up a magnifying glass
eyes moving closer and closer
hands trembling more and more
Finally, at a loss
no longer seeing clearly
the lines and points on the map
you hold me in your heart
Growing older and older
you can now only walk
in my eyes’ sight
every trip outside
From now on
I will walk
by your side
so you can
lean on me
When we are at a loss
not knowing where to go
love is the map
by KAREN LEE HONES
I get an email from Mom
who’s been dead about a year
on a thread from Lisa, a poet friend
confirming lunch on Monday*
Mom’s email starts the way it often does
It’s your kind of day.
Meaning grey (I love grey!), overcast, maybe raining.
A typical day in Rochester. Mom goes on to say
All must be looking forward to Ruby’s return.
Oh, so, this is an old email. I look at the date.
It’s three years ago, Mom’s still alive
and my daughter’s on her way home from rehab.
Mom’s old email also talks about the other Ruby, her sister
who tried to dry out once in the early ‘60s.
They didn’t say rehab then. But Mom says Remember
when Ruby went to rehab and left Tommy
with us? My little red haired cousin. Two then, or
almost two. We took care of him while Ruby was away.
Both of them were dead within a year. Tommy of
malnutrition and neglect, whispered into the phone;
Ruby, of the powerful disease that reaches
out and claims families, sometimes tricking
them, by skipping a generation. Mom’s father,
the Jekyll and Hyde classic alky, a smart man, studied
law, but became a cop, then a carpenter,
well read, and kind--until he drank. Then beat
his son or his wife with his fists. He didn’t mean
to do it, but was helpless in the grip of the illness.
Aren’t we all caught in some kind of pattern?
Didn’t I follow in Grandpa’s alcoholic footsteps?
Didn’t I name my beautiful baby after my beautiful aunt?
Did Mom think she could rearrange the genes when
she never drank and didn’t allow Dad to drink either?
Dad overate. Then dieted. Pounds off, back on.
Mom kept track. When he retired, she had him walk to town
with her each day. Three miles round trip. Half a sandwich
for lunch. Eighty-three, he died, near his ideal weight.
*None of my techie friends can explain this phenomenon.
by Nellie Wong
Resplendent in the dark night
stillness sings beneath the skin.
Droplets of water chasing
the one ahead
on the window pane.
Watching sunlight dapple
on leaves, watching
long ribbons of light through
the dining-room window
and I sit, dazzled by nature’s show,
no special effects needed,
no computerized images,
just nature at work,
creating momentary art.
When I look away
the angle of sunlight shifts
and I lose a split second
of what nature does
without plan, without intention.
Midnight gold lifts its feet,
dances through my body,
these writing fingers.
Perhaps I escape,
a child seeking adventure,
seeking beauty in each day’s movement,
looking at each person,
each cluster of echeveria as I walk
on my morning strolls.
Midnight gold strikes this very moment
in every up-and-down movement
of my pen, somehow starlings in flight.
Guided by light glowing
from the Japanese table lamp
made of bamboo strips
curved in a rounded pillar of beauty.
midnight gold filters through washi paper,
luminous and porous, raining words, indigenous sound.
Single With a Side of Quarantine
by Preeti Vangani
Shelter-in-place shifts the communal axis of the world
closer to my kind of loneliness. The year I begged for a baby
sister; my folks gifted me an electronic pet made in China.
This morning another friend memed a whole race as the real virus.
I washed my comforter, panic bought eggs, read a book
erstwhile titled The Hall of Human Origins.
I had christened my pet-sister, a coral plastic fish with a screen
for a belly, Infinity. Fed her when she squeaked, hid her
from disciplining nuns. Despite its mind-numbing traffic and pot-
holes deep as grief, I miss driving my dingy car on the Bombay
sea link tonight, am craving the salt-soaked wind to ravage
my coconut oil pressed hair. I come from a blank page with just
eroticism doodled in its center. These days, I wonder if I should
sell the condoms I hoarded at the women’s clinic over the quarantine
black market. My room is lit by a vase of billy buttons, yellow
undying bulbs that need no care. The week tastes like brown rice
and broccoli. It is the twelve-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.
It was hard for my dad to resuscitate Infinity. No shop, he said,
had the batteries we needed. There must be a room in the other
world’s architecture where one can sit for tea with the dead toy,
the unspeaking mother and the sold in a rush first car. I hope
they remember to stock honey and sugar there.
by Clara Hsu
Your daughters are staying home!
nei dik neoi go go dou hike oak ke 你啲女個個都係屋企
One washes the tripe,
jat go sai ngau park jip 一個洗牛柏葉
One steams a crab,
jat go zing haai 一個蒸蟹
One makes cookies,
jat go gog co-kay-bang 一個烘曲奇餅
One bakes bread.
jat go gog min baau 一個烘麵包
They’re good girls, aren’t they?
koi dei do hai goui neoi 佢哋都係乖女
Not going out until the wee hour of the night.
je maan m ceot gaai 夜晚唔出街
Not spending money on clothes.
m sai cin, m maai sam, 唔洗錢, 唔買衫
Not drinking, gambling,
m jam tau, m dou cin 唔飲酒, 唔賭錢
Nor dating men.
jau m heoi zeoi naam jan. 又唔去追男人
No, no, they’re not sick.
m hai m hai, koi dei mo beng 唔係唔係, 佢哋冇病
They’re healthy in body and mind.
koi dei ho gin hong, ho cing sing. 佢哋好健康, 好清醒
They’re good girls obeying orders for once.
koi dei hai gwaai neoi, ho naan dak ting ha waa. 佢哋係乖女, 好難得聽下話
How curious but hardly surprising.
kei gwaai? jat di dou m ceot kei. 奇怪? 一啲都唔出奇
Don’t be afraid. No worries.
m sai sam geng geng, daam zan zan 唔使心驚驚, 膽震震
Your daughters are itching, ready to move
keoi dei zau san han, dang zyu juk 佢哋周身痕,等住喐
Soon as the air is clear.
dang di hung hei bin gon zing 等啲空氣變干净
They’ll naturally leave their domestic chores,
koi dei zi jin wui fong hei gaan mou 佢哋自然會放棄家務
Back to their glamorous selves,
baan dou gwai fo gam leng 扮到鬼火噉靚
Walking down Chinatown
hai tong jan gaai dong loi dong heoi 係唐人街蕩來蕩去
with their own fanfare.
ceot zeon fung tau 出盡風頭
Mother of All Denial
certain mornings seem runic in their layout
deciphering their arcane symbols of our daily
navigations – small beings tend shimmering
grottoes – bury their dead among the ever
shifting territories of empty rooms with
passing the castoff furniture on 24th street scrawled
with dire cryptic misinformation – seems i care
little for an unwrapped smile an ossuary of
impotent curses biohazardous exhaust droplets
disrupting the flow death coughs up real time threats
these days are such tender times – words
of empathy fail us in their mock duplicity
16th street bound i carry my florida water –
my tombstone teeth – my witches tit that
sustains my intuition raw – in my vision
a.m. eastern sky becomes a joseph cornell
shadowbox of present time – teal
hummingbird hovers in dawn’s moist orange
eyelid – cloistered in an aura of pale amber
as storms gather
by devorah major
wind tears through shuddering trees
a shifting sigh as leaves wither and fall
shrieking squalls spume fury across ocean crests
murmuring a moaning song with a piercing chill
icy fevers inhale the waves’ surge
swallows unmoored boats
warning of seasons to come
seasons only some will survive
Poem of the Day
by Charlie Getter
I look on the blue box on the sidewalk with envy
A world [so far! yet] w/in one box
I often think they paint them blue
for the sky
for the sea
Blue is the color of possibility
I know mailboxes are dingy & dented
& those that collect them
are prone to depression
But through them
real things can be
all the way across the world
w/ just some stamps
I can afford stamps
I envision an afternoon
when an angry guy with a cart
pulls out his keys & opens the mailbox
& I’m in there
I hand him my stamps & he
tells me to enjoy
I climb into his weird jeep
& he brings me to the
& waves as I
the hanging vinyl sheets
over the conveyor belt
& he goes home to his
in the Tenderloin
calls his mom and
picks up his guitar
for the first time
in so many years
Poem of the Day
by Brandon Loberg
You can believe
whatever you want,
but i was told a story once,
about Cabeza de Vaca,
the Spanish explorer,
when he was in Florida
perhaps it was Galveston,
the food had run out,
and facing starvation,
he ordered his men
to boil leather,
to eat wood
and then finally
The story, i’ll wager
is certainly nonsense,
and yet it continues
that while journeying onward
a peculiar thing happened:
one after another
their tropics-tanned faces
turned a pale shade of blue
and each fell where he’d stood
See, constituent in gunpowder
is potassium nitrate,
and the body can’t differentiate
between it and oxygen,
so despite breathing fine,
The same can be said
of believing in nonsense,
feeling sated on things
which are not meant for eating,
and while there is truth
to be found, yes, in fiction,
to put fact and opinion
upon equal footing
is to move through the world
Fanfare for the Story Hour Drag Queens
by Judith Ayn Bernhard
Sound the trumpets for our
sisters in drag
The glamor girls who read
stories to children
Hooray for these purveyors
of sweet illusion
Hooray for their humor
Hooray for their big hair
All love to the librarians who
invite them to read
All love to the mothers who
treat them as artists
All love to the children who
greet them with wonder
Hallelujah the children’s
Hallelujah the triumph
Glory be to the Queens of
by EK Keith
When I emerge
from this cocoon
will there be
to live on
Will I have a job
what about my friends
What about the kids
who need some space
to play to learn
We still have to act
like our decisions matter
that our plans
will unfold predictably
even as the fabric
of our control
I Sold My Sax this Week
by Ricardo Taverez
Sold my sax this week
Pete Rock’s “Reminisce” riff clicks the switch
Soul from the reed and tap of pads on brass
Exasperated baritone breath
Woke to lights
Scorching welts in walls
A plane blinked
A train boomed in the distance
Unheeded by the blue haze of day
Sold my sax this week
I can still feel the keys and
Levers shifting under my fingers
Nodding to Brubeck Sonny Bird
Solace found in murky backroom bebop
Surrogate brother love
Lifts the spirit from being forsaken
By finite illusion from above
To seek a love supreme
How did we meet?
Swinging stupefied fists in midnight Mission streets
If they’d only collide against the real
To affirm this
Sold my sax this week
A dozen calls came in for the sale
How does one let go of art?
How does one relinquish an aspiration of the heart?
Sold my sax this week
Pete Rock’s “Reminisce” riff clicks the switch
keys levers shift eyelids close
fingers twitch to Mclean under tablecloths
at redlight greenlight sunlight moonlight
scorched walls stand watch wait
for when heart meets the midnight train again
We never know the end of things
by Elana Dykewomon
In Weaverville along an alpine California road
Joss House – The Temple of the Forest
Beneath the Clouds
the oldest Taoist Chinese temple
in use – part of State Parks now –
though locals can walk its grounds
six feet apart during quarantine.
We were there once. The Chinese dug
tunnels under the street,
for use in pogrom; but in those years
they could parade,
they carried banners. The guide
pointed to them – leaning on a wall,
petrified, rolled-up on poles.
No one knows what shape they're in.
Experts would have to trek
to the mountains, commandeer
the high school gym – no money for
I was for a moment
in the body of an old woman
rolling up the banner
at the end of a festival afternoon
that she would never see it
unfurled again. Things end
– leave remnants crumbled but
still bright, still worth showing –
See we used to carry this
high, with honor, though of course
sometimes it hurt our hands or shoulders.
The masks we wear now – one day we will
take them off, put them in the back of a drawer
or closet shelf. And the poems too, photos
of strangers' eyes, stories from the front lines
will drop to the bottom of our computer queues.
We might drive back to The Temple of the Forest
Beneath the Clouds or
that we were there once
when we were lovers before
you died and I gave away all your shoes.
Something that will always be out of reach
by Lisbit Bailey
Only one thing
Beyond my grasp
To grasp is to cling or
Let go - before I get ahold of it
Hold on - for the epiphany
Drop it - like a burning match
It falls out of my reach
It would have to be understanding
Which seems more of a projection
My projection - onto your suffering
My desire - for a shared experience
To share wisdom I've earned
So you can learn from my mistakes
But they are my mistakes
Your mistakes are yours
Even if similar in circumstance
They aren't the same
Say we aren't our mistakes
Say we understand understanding
Be open to receiving the gift of understanding
Give in - to understand
Step under my particular dome
See the constellations I see
Can you see the vanishing point??
It's not a perspective that just anyone can see
in the great beyond of my reach
Many things -
Most things -
Will always be too far away for me to see clearly
My vision not being what it used to be
Let alone hoping it's within my reach
I can't have everything
nor do I want everything
Better to want what I have
Mind your head
Mind the gap between your's and mine
While we stand under
We stand as
Bystanders to lives we don't own
Though it is mine and your's to stand under
To look up
To wonder why
This must be understood at all
by Maw Shein Win
Poet Laureate of El Cerrito Emerita
Stranger than a trunk of beetles, a box of fur buttons.
My daughter is a stranger and I am a stranger myself.
We are strangers on a melting train. Sometimes she leaps
through the kitchen window while I bake zucchini bread.
Gretchen was a deer.
Gretchen was a deer one year.
My daughter is a hunter in the Black Forest.
Stranger daughter, I hear you in my eyes.
When Wildness Returns
by Jennifer Barone
I hear bird-speak
replace the chatter of tourists
across the now
quiet valley of North Beach
where crow and seagull spiral ‘round
the bell tower of St Francis and
raven and sparrows congregate
in the fenced off grass of
Washington Square park
red-tailed hawk and a lone falcon
loom above the spires
as a flock of wild parrots
on their chatty flight from
Presidio to Coit Tower and back
echo through the vacant streets
with the faint bark of sea lions
disobeying distancing measures
at the empty wharf
while we stay at home
perched above the rooftops
a pack of coyotes gather on
the corner of Greenwich and Stockton
howling at the full, flower moon
taking back their territory
I wait for the spotted owl to return
the garter snake to slither in the sage brush
coho salmon to leap against the river
blue whale to wander the continental shelf again
the black abalone, mission blue butterfly
red-legged frog to reappear
for sacred wells to spring forth and buried streams to reemerge from
sullen architecture to daylight themselves
returning cityscape to landscape
the hilly grasses growing lush and shaggy food for grazing goats
as we return to our own sacred wildness
with untamed hair and hearts torn open
holding each other on the balcony
listening to birds sing again
in the stillness of our room
Threatened and endangered species of the Golden Gate
Poem of the Day
by Lance Henson
Amy Kimberly’s apt
Where am I waiting for you
Streets soaked in voices
This coffee cup filled with rain
The Paris sky grey orange
I walked into whatever light there was
Through small alleyways
Filled with forgotten names
In the chimbu highlands at monsoon
With Papua New Guinea poets in a tin shack
We read poems
After they shared their last bread with me
Our words touching us quietly
Into the deep night
Soon after waking in Chang Mai
I remembered dreaming of a white field of skulls
The only darkness
The holes where their eyes were
This San Francisco morning
I remember the war that Is here
And inside a gust of wind through the curtains
The great memory that waits
Wanting to cross over
From the other side
“That’s Not Politics”
by Greer Nakadegawa Lee
we commonly set fewer women on fire.
Is that leading by example?
Half the country is afraid of dying like fish
open mouth unhinged towards the sky
pale stomach full of hooks,
not a decent death,
the death of salt slipping from fingertips.
Not making a sound when you hit rock bottom
we commonly set fewer women on fire.
What does that mean to the memories of flaming corpses.
Time of death for the witch,
half past the hour,
let's put her etching into the newspaper,
I’ll tell you about it in my next letter,
I’ll play it for you on the radio
I’ll text you the video,
we’ll all watch her burn together,
it is not a decent death.
the hand lurches in the burning and the chat goes wild,
charred on the wind
and the messages pour in over the empty pyre,
“I don’t even know what I’m doing here.”
Califas, My California, Mi Amor
by MK Chavez
Hummingbird heart over golden rolling hills,
please know that it’s not your beaches
that make me love you,
it’s the fury in your liver
and your Marysville men & Chowchilla women
in my marrow.
Your thirst is drought and dry as bleached ocean bone.
I want your revolutionary hamlets,
your murder dubs,
wetlands and marshes,
your ghettos and devil mountains,
the ghosts of your failed missions,
abandoned caves, and your sunken ships.
Bring me your she-bear, your grizzly.
Forever your strength.
Carnalita, your tongue, tan bilingua.
Your glorious Spanglish.
Give me the Indigenous in you,
the we’ve been here longer
than you in you.
Califas, you are rainbow flag and stone butch.
Coastal Starlight, you travel through Cuesta Grande,
you are track marks all the way
from the Chateau Marmot
to the emerald triangle.
you grow on the vine,
your wine, your Mexican tar,
you’re known for it.
You are wet-lands, delta, and once a year sandhill cranes.
You are monarch and pupa.
How I love to watch you emerge from your chrysalis.
Feed me your milkweed,
and non-native eucalyptus.
California your name is
Cherrie and Luis.
You are Barbary Coast, men fighting men over something that shines promise.
You are headlands, abandoned forts, sea lions, coastal range, and tulle elk.
California your malls bury your shell mounds
but this savage still prays for you.
California you kill me—
but you are reluctant.
Flog and fog. You can be a cold mistress
but I like it when you wake,
rise from the ocean and move over peaks.
Cali, your fissures are not your fault.
Golden arches of final goodbyes,
you are shark-infested waters
and El Capitan and the Salton Sea.
Califas, island of my spirit, untamable amazon,
last sanctuary for the estranged,
you hold my history
like the hidden Methuselah tree.
CASUALTIES OF A WAR ON CREATIVITY:
AT THE NO BUSINESS AS USUAL EXHIBIT OF PROTEST ART,
CITY COLLEGE OF SAN FRANCISCO, DECEMBER 2019
by Tehmina Khan
A necklace of scissors
Candles of remembrance
A skeleton rising up in the
graveyard for the murdered.
A vigil for the disappeared:
Casualties of a war on creativity.
A green serpent with
a moneybag for a head,
fangs ready to pierce.
The last screen print from CCSF, three of them in a row.
A colorful fist raised.
Schedule of classes shredded into ribbons.
“LIES” written in red
over the promise of graduation.
“BS” over the slogan of
Scissors, snip, cut, silence.
Testimony of immigrant women learning to weld.
Dreams of city people, working people
longing for words, numbers, stories, skills.
Dreams deferred. Who’s making a profit?
Who is the green serpent with fangs pointed at us?
From a painting on the wall,
Frida and Diego watch what we do.
They’ve been here before.
by Thea Matthews
After Jericho Brown
In isolation I vow to remember
Your voice your contagious laugh your eyes.
Your smile as I stared into your eyes
One last time you still tug on my sheets.
This body alone rests on cold sheets.
Wrestling with the memories of you
I swear you cannot be gone in one breath. You
Remain intact within my pulse in hand.
And whether or not you feel hands
Embracing your face please know my fingers
Rest in the streams of your hair. My fingers
Count the distance of separation.
Whether you are six feet away or
In isolation I vow to remember.
by Lourdes Figueroa
and who will have the last word if not
the mountain up ahead
with a rising sun
if not the sudden blue of the skies
if not the howl of the wind within a long corridor of buildings
if not the reflection of light on a cobweb
if not the horizon up ahead dividing the land sea & sky
& the resting sunset
if not the bone bare yellow moon on a star full night
whom will have the last word
if not the chirp of a newborn sparrow
who will it be
and if not any of this
and if there is a last word
upon whose ears will it fall upon
no mi vida
no te rajes
con nuestras caras hacia al sol
sentimos el calor del amanecer
pronto llega el sol
pronto llega el sol
mi vida no te rajes
con nuestros ojos cerrados
hacia lo azul
Pacifica, May 2020
by Ingrid Keir
Remember the dust of our ancestors tooth and bone
Their blood runs through me
as I dilate to the elementals that flow
a lifetime of grandmothers and grandfathers
Remember love at first touch exists
In this time of no-touching
Hydration, after a thirst so bottomless
seven layers deep
Lying in be
the glow of the universe spreads across the sky
lit by your hands
The lizard scales fall away
to a crimson rose, fragrant petals
I unfold myself into you
a teardrop carnelian
Along the shore
held by wildflowers and sand
Desire as an ever-changing kaleidoscope
I hear the hum of creation
Let us paint the story of beginnings
With your hands
spirals circumambulate my body
like Fibonacci’s golden ratio
sacred swirls, momentum,
To enter the erotic
through the gates of the unseen
A veiled dance behind silken strands
fingertips walk along skin
I have learned to love myself
planted my garden
which blooms, still,
let me see the crystalline stars
held in your irises
as we walk the corona
crowned by interstellar luminosity
Birth Poems 7/20/17
by Alexandra Kostoulas
Blue bird swinging on the lowest branch
watching over me
over the spirits of the unborn
as they make their way through the caul
into this gentle breeze
strips away the cool air from our breath
and 5 o’clock summer sun beats down unobstructed
all the birds and all the trees and all the
chimes in this back yard are one.
I am the old solid bark on the rusted deck
the convex shape in this whirling glass of water
the warbling the chirping the pre-dawn infinite
stretching into the corners of every lazy afternoon in late July
the red trumpet flowers of it all.
I give birth to this baby
I give birth to myself
birth to the infinite violet dusk over and over again.
Mirror inside mirror. Rainbow prism inside rainbow prism
I am alive even when I am no longer alive
Even 100 years from now
when all the butterflies are dead.
I will be encapsulated in this moment
right here in this city
my feet in flip flops
my hair a mess
a slouchy sweater falling off the backs of my bare shoulders
enjoying the sun glistening down on my olive skin.
Birds are overhead
This city that is so cruel to some
And so lucky for others.
In the middle of one of its many golden ages
I sit draped in a loose gray dress,
And realize these are
new ancestral lands
the 4 th generation San Franciscan
inside me eager to be born.
by James Siegel
We tried not to get too excited about it too soon ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week’s mail would bring. And then there were none ... – Bay Area Reporter, August 1998
Summer in San Francisco is never this warm, yet here we are. Ninety degrees in August. The hottest day of the year.
The flowers have dragged their blooms from the basement. The fog packed away for another day. And this season’s crop of young men have shed their clothes on the lawns of Dolores Park. Their pale, bony torsos have turned to copper. Turned to mercury.
They are becoming something more. And now we see that anything is possible.
Even today’s news is possible. The front page fluttering on a park bench—No obits—as though death has quit his job, taken a much deserved rest.
For years the names poured in. A deluge. The editor’s inbox flooded with crisp white envelopes, handwritten return addresses staring back like an epitaph. Piles of human history type-spaced on an ancient typewriter. A life folded neatly—a shroud—holding a photo, the face of someone now gone, journeying off to the dark mystery we all fear.
Now the bay breeze flips the front page to the classifieds, the arts section, an ad for the opera, the Tea Room Theater. And the past comes back as a whisper—we were a generation betrayed by government. The face of Regan. Betrayed by a silence that shouted:
There is nothing to see here. There is nothing that can be done.
Our families buried us before we could die. And the family we adopted lived as they stood dying, refusing the betrayal of our own bodies. An inside job. Our cells resisting the cocktail of pills. Thrush and sarcoma.
And still we sipped sidecars with the North Beach crowds— the beat boys at Vesuvio, the queens of Finnochio’s on Broadway— because this life was worth hanging on to. Our halos cabaret lights burning until burning out.
Next week, perhaps next month, when September rolls off the ocean, the season will cool. The chill of mortality settling in the air.
But today the city is a warm hand. A lost friend inviting us to stretch our limbs on the green grass. To feel the sun’s rays on our skin. One day this will blink out. Fade away. Die. But not yet.
Infinite Definitions of Birth Right
by Lauren Ito
Is it place
Or lullabies caressing cheek
Or contorted masks in shapes we can’t bring ourselves to recognize anymore
I hitchhike towards mirages
Count mile markers in what grows beside the road
Who destroys it
How the invasive species are named
Where resilient blooms atop fault lines keep extinction at bay
And poetry becomes wills only some can inherit.
Tucking affirmations beneath toes at each bend
I ground prayers for cocooned comfort in given skin
As if we were destined to belong here
song of the four winds
by Carol Lee Sanchez
to inspire a careful language
cautious for other centuries-
these portfolios out of ourselves.
the halls are crowded with name tags
gold leaf and celluloid
document the quiet change,
walk the edge of the unknown
planting specks of light to note
the most useable path through oblivion
will bear the mark of
the careful explorers
will continue to prosper here,
unnoticed for awhile until
all the webs are untangled
and they will find us-
holding the ends of these threads
a smile caught between us.
What the Moon Said
by Paula Gunn Allen
The moon lives in all the alone places
“There are things
I work out for myself,” she says.
“You don’t have to be depressed about them.
These are my paces, and walking through them
Is my right.
You don’t need to care
when I’m down.
“Or if I’m mad at myself, don’t believe
I’m mad at you.
If I glare it is not your face I am staring at
but my own.
If I weep, it is not your tears that flow.
“And if I glow
with the brush of twilight wings,
if I rise round and warm
above your bed,
if I sail
through the iridescent
heavy with promise,
with red and fruity light,
and leave your breath
tangled in the tossing tops
of trees as I arise,
as I speed away into the far distance,
disappearing as you gaze
turning silver, turning white
it is not your glory I reflect
It is not your love
That makes me pink,
It is mine.”
The moon moves along the sky by her own willing.
It is her nature to shed some light, sometimes
To be full and close, heavy with unborn thought
On rising. It is her nature sometimes
to wander inn some distant place, hidden, absent, gone.
by Tongo Eisen-Martin
A tour guide through your robbery
He also is
Cigarette saying, “look what I did about your silence.”
Ransom water and box spring gold
-This decade is only for accent grooming, I guess
Ransom water and box spring gold
-The corner store must die
War games, I guess
All these tongues rummage junk
The start of mass destruction
Begins and ends In restaurant bathrooms
That some people use
And other people clean
“?you telling me there’s a rag in the sky”
-waiting for you. yes-
we’ve written a scene
we’ve set a stage
we should have fit in. warehouse jobs are for communists. But now more corridor and hallway have walked into our lives. Now the whistling is less playful. The barbed wire is overcrowded too.
.My dear, if it is not a city, it is a prison
.If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city
,When a courtyard talks on behalf of military issue
.all walks take place outside of the body
.Dear life to your left
.Medieval painting to your right
.None of this makes an impression
.Crop people living in thin air
You got five minutes
to learn how to see
.through this breeze
,When a mask goes sideways
.barbed wire becomes the floor
.Barbed wire becomes the roof
Forty feet into the sky
.becomes out of bounds
,When a mask breaks in half
.mind which way the eyes go
They’ve killed the world for the sake of giving everyone the same backstory
We’re watching Gary, Indiana fight itself into the sky
Old pennies for wind. For that wind you feel before the hood goes up and over your headache. Pennies that stick to each other (mocking all aspirations). Stuck together pennies was the first newspaper I ever read. Along with the storefront dwelling army that always lets us down.
Where the holy spirit favors the backroom. Souls in a situation that offer one hundred ways to remain a loser. Souls watching the clock hoping that eyes don’t lie to sad people.
"?what were we talking about again"
the narrator asked the graveyard
-ten minutes flat-
said the graveyard
-the funeral only took ten minutes-
",never tell anyone that again"
the narrator severely replied
“You just going to pin the 90s on me?”
-all thirty years of them-
“Then why should I know the difference between sleep and satire?”
the pyramid of corner stores fell on our heads
-we died right away
that building wants to climb up and jump off another building
-these are downtown decisions
somewhere on this planet, it is august 7th
and we’re running down the rust thinking, “one more needs to come with me”
on earth, so
that we could
be sent back
THE NO BICH* ARCANE
by Jack Hirschman
From a magic
a mad poet,
a bender of
a vessel hauling
to the Muse,
a translator with
I sang this
in its still
have its way
my pen wept
until all I am
is this friend
in the sun
floor and the
*Haitian for North Beach
Washing My Hands
by Kitty Costello
Something quivers at the brink of my skin
where I thought I end but don’t.
Edges have gone all blurry
like a rainy night under Paris streetlamps.
Distance is rearranged.
Surpassing is the new way of things,
going beyond anything we thought
could hold us close or keep us safe
or shut us in, proximity superseded.
Prayer was always seeping through walls,
penetrating to bedsides, to gravesides
of those unseen, afar.
Longing was always perpetrating
the quiet of my heart.
Hearing remains just out of earshot,
the cries of the world entering
through some long-forgotten sense gate,
tears spilling from ancient fountains we
did not fashion and will never drain,
no matter how long our sirens wail.
This indelible something
as it ravages the known,
through mortal fingers.
Kitty Costello, 3/27/20
There Is No Word for Goodbye
by Mary TallMountain
Sokoya, I said, looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes,
What do you say in Athabaskan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
A shade of feeling rippled
the wind-tanned skin.
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.
She looked at me close
We just say Tlaa. That means,
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?
She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forgot when you leave us,
You're so small then
We don't use that word.
We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't,
we'll see you someplace else.
There is no word for goodbye.
“Sokoya” means “Aunt” in the Athabaskan language
by Mary TallMountain
by Paul Corman-Roberts
a teenage saint
a B list princess
takes the time each day and night
to ask blessing
from the four elements
and yes, perhaps the fifth
We reach out to the future
with all our love
our prayers and passion
from the edge of a blade
without a notion as to who
you might be.
Our brightest minds at the pleasure
of our grimmest hearts
have concluded we must shelter in place
at the precise moment our faith in ourselves
has reached a fork in the blade.
A Short History of Journey
by Aileen Cassinetto
The fault, dear Arcturus, is not in your star.
I’m afraid we misread the swells
like explorers mistaking one continent for another.
“Columbus stretched out Asia eastward until Japan almost kissed the Azores.”
“The Chinese treasure fleet had been mothballed long before Magellan set to sea."
In other words, they were imprecise, and they perished.
(Behold the flight of birds on rarefied air,
from breeding ground to wintering ground.
Behold intention, and it’s kin, precision.)
Be that as it may, we were always meant for motion.
See how the Silk Road was paved with horses’ bones.
And more than smuggled silkworm, it brought sugar, silver,
paper—utter world changer.
See how the Spice Trade flourished,
shoring up an empire, its galleons—implacable bearers of a slave
trade from Manila to Acapulco.
The world got its cinnamon, its cocoa, its cassia and cardamom,
its lapis lazuli, and its Balas Ruby—ancient and sapphire-veined.
We got wanderlust.
And the bravest of us looked up and remembered everything—
the fixed star, the dippers, the king, the queen, the bear-keeper—
rubescent and fourth brightest in all the night sky, dearest,
remembered also the cardinal of old fields and every roadside—
brilliantly blue and sometimes true—in the same night sky,
roaming its way home.
Aileen Cassinetto, poet laureate of San Mateo County
From Below the Belt
by Bill Vartnaw
for David Meltzer
is a question of which
a story has rained,
reigned upon our (un- &) conscious minds
“…whether we chose
to believe it or not,”
the dream comes (with its uni-verse)
like the flooding of the Nile
& each flood, its variations,
whether spiritual, biological
psychological &/or political;
each must touch the body of man/woman
either building it, stretching it
molding, breaking or killing it…
let us turn each flood into a growing season
food for the body, food for thought
we can, we must feed each
other; we are all other
not the quick advertisement they/we are selling
we must prepare for the next deluge
it will come
dig your ditches soon enough;
dig them deep (far & wide) enough
to handle the next inundation
Remember to turn the soil, open the Earth
for the story moves us forward
or we do not move forward.
we know it is made up
with words we use everyday
& dreams we have dreamt,
whether we remember them or not
& that somewhere, the word
for our “dream” is but one letter away
from becoming “comfort, salvation,
peace…” the right combination
of our conscious blood, sweat &
laughter (tears, like the flood, are
a gift) can change this word to the one
we think is "better or richer or true…"
Bill Vartnaw, former poet laureate of Sonoma County
by Shizue Seigel
I love my neighborhood of stubborn weeds
I’m praying that COVID came just in time to rescue it
from total eradication, preserving the last of the grit
from million-dollar scrubs of virgin
olive oil, oatmeal and sage by the pampered who
can afford to bathe their skins with what lesser folk could eat.
I’m hoping this scare will slow them down
like the bursting of dot.com bubble v. 1
or the 1989 earthquake.
It used to be that coastal fog was enough
to keep out those who did not love this land
and its fragile interface with sea and
sky sometimes unseen all summer long.
Morning fog tendrils, microdroplets
bursting against our cheek, reminded us
like warning blasts and mournful bellows
signaling ships at sea and landlubbers alike
that we are all adrift on life—reality rising and falling
heaving and lulling, by turns.
There are no guarantees
Only the invitation to risk
We are a hardy people
buckwheat and sorrel
plantains, dandelions and succulents.
Look down your nose at us,
Endulge yourself elsewhere
with showy blooms and gourmet grazings.
We are a plain people whose meager dollars
sent a generation to college so
they could look down at us, too.
They have yet to learn
there are no guarantees except
to all of us in the end.
Life is how you
Poem for Michael McClure
by Kim Shuck
The bridge meant fishing and floodwater
Like all good symbols
It was mostly borrowed and they’ve
Renamed the river
But the part that’s mine
That little experience
The wood shudder
Running mostly down from Kansas
The part that’s mine will die with me
And there will still be a river
You wouldn’t stop playing with my hair
So I tugged the braid away
And smacked you with it
And we both laughed
A moment I have taken with me
As I roll on over flint
All the way
Down to Grand Lake